'My Brother's Keeper' Builds Bridge to Minority Boys
WASHINGTON -- Many minority men these days find themselves in fatherless homes - a situation that too often ends in disappointment and prison. But President Barack Obama is using his historic presidency and the power of his office to change that.
His new initiative "My Brother's Keeper" is designed to identify programs that help keep minority men on track by helping them mature emotionally and set worthwhile goals.
Chicago-based BAM, or Becoming A Man, is one of the programs the president wants to duplicate.
When 18-year-old Christian Champagne first learned about the program he thought he'd try it because once a week, it got him out of geometry class. But what started as an excuse changed his life.
"A year ago I was closed off, like 'ehhh,' he recalled. "I didn't care about people. I only cared myself."
"So now I can like have a conversation," he continued. "It gives me confidence, a boost to my self esteem and helps me open up about what's going on in my life and how I feel that day," Champagne says.
Like too many young men of color, Champagne's father is rarely around, and boys without dads are much more likely to be poor and fail at school.
"Your dad is like the number one goal of that standard of how to be a man and how to handle your business like a man," he explained.
At the White House Thursday, Champagne introduced another man who grew up without his dad -- the president of the United States.
"I can see myself in these young men," President Obama said. "And the only difference is that I grew up in an environment that was a little bit more forgiving. So when I made a mistake, the consequences were not as severe."
Instead of tax dollars, My Brother's Keeper relies on private foundations that are investing hundreds of millions of dollars to find out which strategies work, along with a bipartisan group of stakeholders who are determined to end the cycle of fatherlessness, poverty and crime.
Despite being the nation's first African-American president, Obama rarely aims programs at specific groups.
But in this case, he said, unlocking the full potential of young black and Latino men will eventually benefit all Americans.
"In this country we have a responsibility to help each other," Marshaun Bacon, a mentor with the BAM program, said. "And so when we see people who are mired in these horrible environments we all have to stand up and do something."
For young men like Champagne and Kerron Turner, having a man, especially the president, take an interest in their lives means everything.
"He wants us to live up to our full potential and he knows that we can do better and he wants us to do more," Turner said.